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Winter is calling: Dickinson Fire talks home heating, holiday decorations, CO dangers, more

What does the fire department have to say about the forthcoming winter and how to prepare and stay safe? This is the final article to the three-part article series “Winter Is Calling.”

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Firefighters from the Dickinson Fire Department unravel a water hose to cool the smoke and burning embers at a residential home during a fire in December 2020. (Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press)
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Did you know that one in every seven home fires and one in every five home fire deaths involves a heating equipment device? As the year progresses into the peak months for half of all home heating fires — spanning from December to February — the Dickinson Fire Department is working to educate homeowners on how to prevent home fires while enjoying a safe holiday season.

As the final article of this three-part series “Winter Is Calling,” DFD Deputy Fire Chief Mark Selle sat down with The Press to review fire prevention inside the home from home heaters to holiday decorations as well as highlighting the dangers of carbon monoxide (CO).

“We get more actual house fires that will happen in the wintertime because of heating and candles and things like that because people are home more,” Selle said. “So it's really important to make sure that you're aware of the candles that you may be using; you never want to leave a candle unattended in a room, make sure you got a good candle base that's a good heavy one that won't tip over and things like that.”

Dangers of carbon monoxide

The highest call volume DFD responds to during the winter tend to be CO calls, Selle said, explaining that these calls result from the “unburned or non-complete burning of fossil fuels.” This can range from a propane or natural gas stove or even a furnace, he said.

“Starting your car in the garage is a big one. A lot of times people tend to open their garage door, start their car and leave it running in the garage. Well, what's going to happen is all that CO is going to come into your house, and that's a major killer. CO is a gas that you can't smell. You don't know it's there; you just start to get ill and sick and it can kill you,” Selle said. “... If you're going to start your vehicle, you need to get in it (and) back it all the way out the garage and close that garage door. It's just the best way to warm up your vehicle. Having that garage door open is not enough ventilation to keep that CO from coming into your home.”

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Other ways to prevent CO from entering a person’s home, furnaces should be checked regularly to make sure that they’re running properly, Selle said, adding that all gas-powered water heaters also need to be reviewed for performance.

For those who are continuing to utilize fireplaces in their home, chimneys need to be cleaned and inspected throughout the winter season. Burning wood without plenty of ventilation can lead to CO emissions into a person’s home, he added.

To detect the amount of CO in one’s home, Selle encourages people to purchase a detector. According to Selle, having a detector on each level inside the home where people are sleeping is crucial in monitoring CO levels. These detectors are typically a plug-in unit that goes easily into an outlet. CO detectors last approximately 10 years and cost anywhere from $50 and up.

Another issue DFD sees in the winter is when the weather turns so cold that sewer pipes start to freeze. In order to prevent this from happening, Selle recommends that people regularly check that their sewer pipes are open for proper ventilation. Gases and smells may enter a home if those pipes are not ventilated, he added.

Along with CO detectors, batteries for fire alarms should be changed annually, Selle continued.

Preventing home heating fires

Oftentimes in the winter, space heaters are used as a second source of heat in a person’s home. However, space heaters are only made for temporary-use and should be used with caution, Selle noted.

“The thing to remember (with) space heaters (is to) make sure they have good, clear space. Use them as they’re intended, follow your manufacturer’s recommendations. But a good rule of thumb is to keep all combustibles 3 feet away from that heater in all directions,” he said. “You never want to leave it unattended, so you don’t want to leave it in the room and then walk away. You don’t want to use it while you’re sleeping because you just don’t know what could happen.”

Put a freeze on winter holiday fires

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, half of all home decoration fires that occur in December are started by candles. For Dickinson firefighters, this is no different, Selle said, explaining that because those candles are more open and not supported by protective glass barriers, it can easily ignite any nearby items.

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“We'd like to see the candle that's inside like a glass container to help protect that flame, and you want to make sure that you're keeping combustibles away from it,” he said.

The U.S. Fire Administration reports annually that more than one in every five Christmas tree fires are caused by a heat source too close to the tree. Trees should be placed at least 3 feet away from heat sources such as fire places, space heaters, candles or heat vents as a dry Christmas tree burns very hot and quickly, fire officials stated.

For more information on how to stay safe this holiday season, visit dickinsonfire.com or usfa.fema.gov .

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Deputy Fire Chief Mark Selle of the Dickinson Fire Department is pictured. (Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press)

Jackie Jahfetson is a graduate of Northern Michigan University whose journalism path began in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan as a freelancer for The Daily Mining Gazette. Her previous roles include editor-in-chief at The North Wind and reporter at The Mining Journal in Marquette, Mich. Raised on a dairy farm, she immediately knew Dickinson would be her first destination west as she focuses on gaining aptitude for ranch life, crop farming and everything agriculture. She covers hard news stories centered on government, fires, crime and education. When not fulfilling deadlines and attending city commission meetings, she is a budding musician and singer.
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